Mimi Alvarez emailed Councilman Gary Yamauchi in January asking for help selling her dog. Alvarez, 24, was diagnosed in 2007 with porphyria, a rare disorder that causes extreme sensitivity to light, severe abdominal pain, and nausea. Then in 2012, Mimi found out she had Lyme disease, and her insurance did not cover treatment. Facing mounting medical bills, the Alhambra resident put her pure bred Yorkshire terrier up for sale for $1,000.
When the councilman received Alvarez's plea, instead of offering to buy the dog, he reached out to his Alhambra contacts and asked for donations. Residents and organizations — including Alhambra's trash and recycling company Republic Services/Allied Waste, Alhambra Firefighters Association, and Goudy Honda — dropped off and mailed contributions. The councilman handed a check on March 18 to Mimi's father Henry Alvarez for $5,870, the first chunk from his on-going fundraising campaign.
"I thank each and every one of you," Henry said at a press conference at Alhambra City Hall. "I'm proud to be part of the city…They've been so supportive, I just don't have the words to say how grateful and thankful we are."
Although she is forced to spend most of her life in seclusion and treatment, Henry says Mimi's strength is what keeps him, her mother, and 16-year-old brother going. "She's always had a good, positive attitude towards this whole thing. She has a very strong faith in the Lord, and that's what's kept her going," Henry said. "She's just a fighter. The only thing I can say is that she's been my wife's and my inspiration."
This was not the first time Yamauchi and Alhambra community members came together for the Alvarez family. When Mimi was 17, her family found a doctor in Boston who specialized in porphyria and invited them to visit for diagnosis and treatment. Due to her extreme light sensitivity, commercial air lines weren't able to take Mimi on board. The Alvarez family was forced to take a private jet to Boston.
Yamauchi and his wife Linda, upon learning about Mimi’s situation, launched a fundraising effort. "We contacted the organizations in Alhambra, like the Rotary Club, police and fire departments, YMCA, and the Chamber of Commerce. Everybody in town pitched in to help. It was just incredible," Yamauchi said. "We raised over $35,000 at that time."
The Alvarez family was scheduled to stay in Boston for two weeks but ended up staying for two months. The community's donation helped support them in Boston and enabled Mimi to stay long enough to receive diagnosis and treatment.
The Yamauchis felt the need to reach out and help the Alvarez family, not just as community leaders, but as parents. "I can't even imagine. I have three young boys," said Linda Yamauchi. "I just think how fortunate you are when you have healthy children."
Henry says Mimi has been receiving treatments for Lyme disease and they seem to be helping, but her porphyria, especially her sensitivity to light, is getting worse. Now even through gloves, light rays will still pierce and break her skin.
The Alvarez family is hoping to start a foundation in Mimi's name and use her illness as a way to help others in the community. "I'm sure there's others more needy than my family that could use this type of help," Henry said. "Hopefully something really positive can come out of this."
Anyone interested in contributing to Mimi's fund can mail a donation to Alhambra City Hall, Attn: Gary Yamauchi, 111 S 1st St, Alhambra, Calif. Please make all checks out to Henry Alvarez.